Generation Crosby: What the NHL's young stars learned by watching Sid

Sidney Crosby hears a lot on the ice during an NHL game. Cheers and jeers. The cacophony of trash talk, interrupted by a few goal horns. But as the years have passed, Crosby's started to hear something else: Opponents openly confessing that they had the Pittsburgh Penguins star hanging on their bedroom wall while growing up.

"It was in our laundry room, actually," said 23-year-old Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. "It's what we used to measure our heights. We'd stand next to it, and mark the lines on him."

Since Crosby made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 2005, there have been 2,939 skaters who have subsequently played at least one NHL game. Gradually, those players went from being Crosby's contemporaries to a younger generation that's only known him as their hockey archetype, the name on their most cherished hockey cards and the face decorating their walls.

"Pretty much everyone I know had that big life-size poster of him. Everyone looked up to him," said 20-year-old Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens.

Rather than looking up to him, Cozens has been eye-level with Crosby in the faceoff circle, taking in the surreal moment of battling a hockey idol. "There was one game where we were taking faceoffs against each other. I wanted to win every draw," he said.

How did he fare?

"Obviously, he's been taking draws forever. I got a few wins in. But he's the experienced one."

Experienced, he is. Despite the now-anachronous "Sid the Kid" nickname, he's "Old Man Crosby" by hockey standards: 34 years old, in his 17th season, with 1,052 regular-season games played and 174 more in the postseason. In NHL chronology, the time between now and his rookie season is roughly the duration between Mario Lemieux's last Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and Crosby's first.

Hence, it's become commonplace for Crosby to face foes that admit they grew up as fans.

"Yeah, guys have said stuff like that on the ice. Made me feel pretty old," Crosby told ESPN, laughing. "But I know it's meant to be a compliment."

This is Generation Crosby: A collection of players from around the world who have picked up a stick, laced up the skates and hit the ice for the first time with the Pittsburgh Penguins captain as their Gordie Howe, their Bobby Orr, their Wayne Gretzky.